Monday, 24 October 2016 – 7:30pm
Alix Goolden Hall, 907 Pandora Ave
(pre-concert talk 7pm)
Tickets: $25 – order online
and at selected outlets
Victoria Conservatory of Music, 900 Johnson St, phone: 250.386.5311
Ivy’s Bookshop, 2188 Oak Bay Ave
Munro’s Books, 1108 Government St
Christ Church Cathedral Office, 930 Burdett Ave
: Emily Ashton
, Richard Boothby
, Reiko Ichise
, Asako Morikawa
, Sam Stadlen
Victoria Children`s Choir
St Christopher Singers
London’s famed Viol Consort, are heard in a selection of the Cries of London, in which music for viol consort is overlaid – sometimes comically, sometimes poignantly – with the raucous voices of 16th-century London’s street-vendors, mendicants, tradesmen and river-taxis.
“A fascinating, beautifully played programme … Fretwork addressed all this music with an easy-going virtuosity. In variation sets, the principal lines moved smoothly and easily from one instrument to the next, and in chordal music, the players produced a well-tuned, fully balanced sound with a delightfully tangy character.” — The New York Times
In 1530 London’s population was around 50,000 people; yet, by 1605 it had swelled nearly 5 times to 230,000 souls. It had become one of the largest cities in the world, and was a thriving hub of commerce and wealth. If you wanted to sell your stuff, then London was the place to do it. But most people couldn’t afford a shop, so they sold it on the street; and the way to attract passing customers was to shout out – loudly – what it was they were offering. These ‘cries’ had been going on for years, yet by the end of the century they must have reached a deafening cacophony. Composers could hardly have missed these sounds, and there was a brief but wonderful penchant for writing works where the rise and fall of these distinctive cries are set for voices against the backdrop of a viol consort. It’s therefore no surprise that we hear the same cry appearing in different works.
Several composers joined in this Cries-fest, and Richard Deering produced not only a ‘City Cries’, similar to Gibbon’s, but a ‘Country Cries’ as well. This has a broader canvass on which to paint a rural life, and contains small scenes from all round the nation, starting in Wales: Sir Rees ap Thomas, ap William, ap Jones, quickly moving to the west country. There’s the hunt, of course, with lots of onomatopoeia, a whistling cartman, an enquiring schoolboy in his Latin lesson: quaeso praeceptor, an advert for a play made by the scholars of the free school, where shall be both a devil and a fool…if you bring not money, you come not in, a beekeeper surrounded by buzzing bees; and finally, a dance, a jig, with hey jolly buckets, to milking ward.
It has been suggested that Thomas Ravenscroft composed none of the music in his major publications: Pammelia (1609), Deuteromelia (1609), & Melismata (1611). He was undoubtedly a great collector of folk music, rounds, catches and cries. He may have arranged existing melodies for voices and viols, and, in the first half, we present some of his pieces most associated with London. In the second, there is the wonderful tune of the Yeoman of Kent; and then the comic scene, in heavy country dialect, where Hodge Trillindle woos his sweetheart, Malkyn.
￼The dialect extends even to the names given the instruments: ‘Dreble, Denor, Bazis’ and the titles of the sections: ‘Vurst bart, Zecund bart’.
In all of these works, it’s difficult not to come away with the impression of a great deal of condescension on the part of the wealthy and socially superior composers and poets, and their patrons, looking down their noses, laughing up their sleeves (if both are possible at the same time) at the ignorant country bumpkins presented before them. On the other hand, these are stock characters.
In some ways, the exception to this is William Cobbold, whose New Fashions is something slightly different, presenting several folk songs in the midst of intricately woven counterpoint. The whole piece is fashioned upon Browning or The Leaves be Green, a popular song used by several composers as the basis for sets of variations. But here we also get Greensleeves, The Shaking of the Sheets and other popular songs of the day. Cobbles was also not a London composer – he was born in Norwich and spent most of his life there as cathedral organist. The whole work has a much more demotic feel to it, the composer feels part of these people, rather than apart from them.
Gibbons was, of course, the master of the Cries form, as with so many genres. Not only does he set the cries in vivid fashion, but they are brought to life in front of an In Nomine (two, in fact).
There are several sources for these works, and not all the words in all of them are suitable for polite company. But great fun is had along the way, and we hear not just the usual traders selling everything you could imagine – and some you couldn’t – oysters, a good sausage, frumenty, mackerel, a mat for a bed, hot spiced cakes, cowcumbers, salt, white radish, writing ink, waistcoats, doublets and so on – but we are asked if we have any mice to kill? or if we have any corns on our feet or toes? Or any bellows that need mending? Or wood to cleave? The town cryer asks us if we know of a young’ wench of 44 years in the first part; and then, in a long shaggy dog story in the second, asks us if we’ve seen a horse lost on the 30th February.
The whole thing starts with a tussle between ‘oarsmen’, boats on the Thames taking customers across the river; then we move through the streets hearing all the traders trying to get our attention until we are caught by a pathetic appeal for bread and meat for the poor prisoners of the Marshalsea, the infamous prison on the south bank of the river in Southwark. Then the chimney sweeps heave into view singing their tuneful song, assuring us that no soot will fall into our porridge, until we hear the nightwatchman tell us to look well to our fire and our light because it’s time for bed.
Early next morning, just past three o’clock, we’re up and about already. It seems we’ve gone straight down to Billingsgate fish market to get the first catch of the day – mussels, cod, cockles, sprats, lampreys, herring, haddock and thornback are all on sale. Wandering on, we come across pies and then nuts, before we’re in Covent Garden for cabbage, turnips, parsnips & lettuce. Bridewell dock is next for some oysters; and then the town crier has our ear. The rag trade has their shout, offering shirts, waistcoats, gloves, silk garters & doublets (in a memorable phrase). Then we find ourselves outside the Bethlehem hospital for the mentally ill in Bishopsgate, already called by then ‘Bedlam’, where a beggar is asking for alms; well, at least a piece of your bacon. Then we are told some nonsense about eggs, cocks and hens before we ‘make an end’.
The In Nomine was an exclusively English form, in which the plainsong ‘Gloria tibi trinitas’ is played, usually once, in one of the parts in long notes, while the other parts weave more or less complicated counterpoint in quicker notes around. The name derives from John Taverner’s mass ‘Gloria tibi trinitas’, in which the full statement of the plainchant is heard in the Benedictus section, with the words ‘In nomine Domine’, and in a dramatic reduction of the texture from six parts to four. Other similar pieces were written with different chants, but none achieved the amazing popularity of the In Nomine. Hundreds of examples survive from the 16th & 17th centuries, the last in ancient times being Purcell’s magnificent 7-part piece of 1680. Yet no-one can explain this popularity.
Gibbons wrote four of the finest of these works, three in five parts and one in four, each richly characterised. The first of the five part settings is blessed with sweet, flowing, mellifluous melodies that seem never to end. Yet they are interrupted by a moment of extraordinary stasis, where time seems to hang. The second is one the most strikingly original works from the period: a gradual acceleration of notes from the beginning to the end is started by what today would be called ‘syncopation’. We never can be quite sure where the pulse really lies. And then it starts to move forward: semi-breves give way to minims, then crotchets and so on. The whole thing reminds me of the Beaufort chart of wind speeds, starting at dead calm and ending with storm force gales.
– Richard Boothby
The Cryers Song of Cheape-side
Two four-part Fantazias
Deer poem in monosyllables
What is our life?
Cries of London
The Aire Bridge
The Earl of Essex Galiard
In partnership with: the Victoria Conservatory of Music and Christ Church Cathedral
With special thanks to: